50th Anniversary of Earth Day

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A true-color composite image from two satellites of Earth from 22,000 miles above earth
Source: NASA/GSFC/Reto Stöckli, Nazmi El Saleous, and Marit Jentoft-Nilsen, “Earth from Space,” wikimedia.org, Oct. 17, 2000

Apr. 22, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The late Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI) launched the first Earth Day in 1970 with the goal of channeling the energy of student anti-war protests into environmental action following the Jan. 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California.

In 1970, 10% of Americans (about 20 million people) demonstrated against the health impacts of industrial growth. In 1990, Earth Day went global with 200 million people participating in 141 countries. Today, more than a billion people worldwide participate in some celebration of Earth Day to fight the effects of climate change.

Kathleen Rogers, Earth Day Network President, stated, “Progress has slowed, climate change impacts grow, and our adversaries have become better financed. We find ourselves today in a world facing global threats that demand a unified global response. For Earth Day 2020, we will build a new generation of environmentalist activists, engaging millions of people worldwide.”

According to an Apr. 20, 2020 Gallup poll, 18% of Americans consider themselves active participants in the environmental movement, while another 44% are sympathetic but not active. Americans report taking actions to help the environment, including:

  • 86% voluntarily recycle,
  • 76% have reduced household energy use,
  • 73% have used less water at home,
  • 72% used reusable shopping bags,
  • 69% avoided certain products because of environmental harm,
  • 68% replaced light bulbs at home, and
  • 66% bought a product that was better for the environment than other options.

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has driven Earth Day celebrations online, and resulted in complicated environmental impacts. Emissions are estimated to fall by 5.5% globally, but are expected to bounce back as soon as everyone goes back to work. Gasoline use declined by about 50% at the end of April, but diesel use remained stable. Oil prices have declined, but that means more cheap plastic production as many recycling facilities closed to protect workers.

Explore what the 2020 presidential candidates think about environmental issues, including fossil fuel extraction, fracking, the Green New Deal, nuclear power, and the Paris Climate Agreement.

For more general information, visit climatechange.procon.org and alternativeenergy.procon.org.

Discussion Questions – Things to Think About
1. What online actions could you take for Earth Day 2020? Explain your answer.

2. Do you and your family take any of the environmental actions listed in the article, such as recycling or using less water? Why these actions? What impact do you think they have?

3. Do environmental issues play any role in who you will vote for in the 2020 election? Why or why not?

Sources:

Megan Brennan, “Updated Environment Data for Earth Day 50th Anniversary,” news.gallup.com, Apr. 20, 2020

Earth Day, “Earth Day 2020 Theme: Climate Action,” earthday.org (accessed Apr. 21, 2020)

Earth Day, “The History of Earth Day,” earthday.org (accessed Apr. 21, 2020)

Jessica Flores, “Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary Goes Digital amid Coronavirus Pandemic, with Virtual Protests, Video Teach-ins and More,” usatoday.com, Apr. 19, 2020

Matt Simon, “How Is the Coronavirus Pandemic Affecting Climate Change?,” wired.com, Apr. 21, 2020